Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Response to Nick on the Doctrine of Justification

This is a response to the comments from Nick of "Nick's Catholic Blog" on my post on Roman Catholicism.

I'm not denying Paul could have used other words to espouse the concept of "Christ's Righteousness" - but the burden is on the Protestant to demonstrate that when Paul uses a term like "righteousness" it must be "Christ's Righteousness" as opposed to any other possible meanings of 'righteousness'.
Looking at the 5 passages you cite, only one of them even mentions the term "impute" - Rom 4:3 - and that text is under dispute by us - so to say they 'clearly' make case for imputation is quite a leap. Just taking one of those texts, Phil 3, and reading in it context (3:8-11) I say it's espousing the exact opposite of imputation.


The Apostle Paul first of all makes it clear that there is a righteousness that is given based on faith:

"Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works" (Romans 4:4-6)

This righteousness is likened to a gift which is not earned.
How do I know that this righteousness is the righteousness of Christ? Paul makes this clear in several places:

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Note that the righteousness of God is described as the righteousness in him.
He makes the same point in Philippians, "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." (Philippians 3:8-9) This righteousness comes from outside of himself, from God and only through being in Christ. I don't understand how you can say imputation is not meant here. This is a righteousness that he claims is not "a righteousness of my own."

This is why Paul can say in passing to the Corinthians, "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption." (1 Corinthians 1:30) Notice again that this righteousness is in Christ and from God.

If Paul is at all consistent in what he means by the righteousness that saves, he need not say "impute" and "the righteousness of Christ" right next to one another for us to understand his meaning. Putting all the texts together, we can see that:
1. There is an imputed righteousness (Romans 4:6)
2. This righteousness is apart from our own works (Romans 4:5, Philippians 3:9)
3. This righteousness is only found in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 3:9)
If we are to discover doctrine, as we do the Trinity and several other Christian teachings, on the basis of the text as a whole rather than on simple proof texts, it is clear that the imputed righteousness of Christ is a Biblical and Pauline concept.

You then mention the locus classicus for your claim: Romans 4:5
The main problem here is that too much weight is put on this passage with too many assumptions supporting it. It's simply dangerous to build one's theology upon a single verse.


So much weight is put upon this passage simply because it is so clear. It is not just a single verse, it is a key passage for understanding the entirety of Paul's argument in this section.

(A) You said "The man who is ungodly is counted as righteous," but the actual phraseology is "justifies the ungodly, faith credited as righteousness". These two phrases are not necessarily identical in meaning.

The "crediting of righteousness" is an explanation of what justification is. This is further shown by the fact that Paul uses justification in Romans 8 as being the opposite of condemnation. Clearly this cannot mean "making one righteous."

(B) You're assuming the term "ungodly" means "unrighteous," but that's not necessarily true. Paul could have simply used the term "unrighteous," negating 'righteous' in this case, but he didn't. The term he used was a negated form of "worshiper", and thus more akin to "non-worshiper" (especially in regards to not worshiping according to Jewish Law standards). The "non-worshiper" (from the Jewish point of view) is none other than the Gentile, and thus Paul would be saying "God justifies the Gentile." This fits with Paul's theme/context (that God is also the God of the Gentiles, and justifies the uncircumcised, 3:27ff). To Judaizer ears, Paul would be uttering blasphemy, God justifying the (second class) Gentiles?...and worst of all Paul calling Abraham a 'non-worshiper' (justified *before* being circumcised 4:9ff)!

This just shows the great lengths one has to go to defend a Roman view of justification in the book of Romans. The ungodly are gentiles? This is an absurd mishandling of the text. The examples Paul uses within this same chapter of justifying the ungodly are Abraham and David, the very representatives of Judaism. What is so offensive here to the Jews is that Paul includes Abraham among the ungodly. What would the whole language of debt and payment in 4:5 have anything to do with being a gentile as opposed to a Jew?

(C) Even if "ungodly" means 'sinner', you'd have to assume "justify" here were a bare declaration. But we both know it's not, and that it includes forgiveness, thus it can be rendered "God forgives the sinner [who genuinely repents]." This would fit perfectly with Romans 4:7-8 and a similar situation of Luke 18:9-14.

Justification is not a "bare declaration." It is a declaration based on the fact that we are in Christ, and thus are given a righteousness from God based on faith. Read the whole argument Paul is making.

(D) The term "justify" ("declare righteous") is not a synonym for "impute righteousness" - 'declare' and 'impute' are not the same. If the passage is rendered "God declares righteous the unrighteous," you have a problem, namely God's honor is at stake, for that is a flat out injustice/contradiction. If you argue the man is truly forgiven and a real righteousness is set to his account, then God isn't really "declaring righteous the unrighteous" anymore, but rather "declaring righteous the righteous".

Paul defines justification as including the imputing of righteousness (Rom 4:6) and the non-imputation of sin (Rom 4:8). Paul is using all three of these concepts synonymously.
God's honor is not at stake because the status of "righteous" is based upon the righteousness of Christ, in whom we are included. The idea that a whole group can bear the guilt or blessings of one individual is common in scripture. For example, we are all sinners because of one man: Adam. Also, the blessings of Israel were often based upon the obedience of the king. In the same way, having a perfectly righteous king, we, as his subjects, receive the blessings he earned.

3 comments:

Nick said...

Sorry for the delay in getting back to this.

Here are some points I'd like to address:

(1) It isn't fair to quote a few texts that mention "righteousness" and link them together as you see fit. None of those texts you give state what can be interpreted as "Christ's Righteousness" (i.e. record of perfect law keeping). The "Righteousness of God [the Father]" is not a status someone 'earns'; it's a quality of God's nature. Further, you again quote Phil 3:8-9, even though in my quote I said I believe it needs to be taken in context, 3:8-11, which points away from imputation.

(2) I feel this quote is especially noteworthy:
"The ungodly are gentiles? This is an absurd mishandling of the text. The examples Paul uses within this same chapter of justifying the ungodly are Abraham and David, the very representatives of Judaism. What is so offensive here to the Jews is that Paul includes Abraham among the ungodly. "

I don't see why the possibility of it meaning "Gentiles" is so out of place, given:
(a) the term is not 'unrighteous' (a negation of 'righteous') but rather a negation of 'worshipper';
(b) Abraham was not living in sin in Gen 15:6, quite the contrary, so it's not accurate to say Abe was unrighteous at this moment in his life;
(c) Paul's very point (in Rom 4:9-10) with mentioning Abraham was that he was justified before being circumcised (thus justified as a gentile) and thus is not only the father of the Jews;
(d) Saying Abraham was a gentile and God justified the gentiles would be offensive to the Jewish ears as saying God justified an unrighteous man, only the latter is a false account of Abraham's status and in fact injustice.

(2b) Continuing: "What would the whole language of debt and payment in 4:5 have anything to do with being a gentile as opposed to a Jew?"

Good question, I believe the answer precisely hinges on this. The New Covenant operates on a gracious principle, while the Old Covenant operates on a 'do this and live' (i.e. live as a Jew and reap these rewards) principle.

(3) I don't see what is wrong with interpreting "justifies the ungodly" as "forgives the sinner." You didn't interact with this.

(4) You said something I didn't get: "Paul defines justification as including the imputing of righteousness (Rom 4:6) and the non-imputation of sin (Rom 4:8). Paul is using all three of these concepts synonymously."
Are you saying 'not impute sin' is a synonym of 'imputes Christ's righteousness'?

Jordan Cooper said...

(1) You are not interacting with my actual argument. I am not simply throwing together random verses that use the word righteousness. I think together these verses make a very clear case for the imputation of Christ's righteousness.
You have not explained how Philippians 3:8-11 points away from imputation. Stating that is not an argument.

(2) Paul's whole point is not just that Abraham's justification was before his becoming a Jew. This is why he contrasts faith with works in general in 4:5. This is also how he can talk about forgiveness as part of the argument with the example of David. Besides, in the Judaism of Paul's day it would have simply been taken for granted that Abraham was always a "Jew" in some sense, even before his circumcision. It is unlikely that Paul would refer to Abraham as a gentile without further clarification.

(3) Justifying the ungodly is forgiving the sinner. This would point toward a reformational understand rather than a Roman one however, so I am not sure what point you are making.

(4)Paul does not have a problem using the concepts of "imputing righteousness" and "not imputing sin" synonymously. This is why he can point to David's discussion of the non-imputation of sin as being about the imputing of righteousness apart from works. They are two ways of explaining the same truth.

Nick said...

(1) Ok, I guess I should rephrase it so that it says I personally don't see warrant for concluding "Christ's Righteousness" in those texts, nor do I see how Christ's Righteousness as equated to His 'active obedience'.
As for Phil 3:8-11, Paul is explaining what this righteousness does: "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." That doesn't sound like imputation to me, rather Paul is describing an inner transformation.

(2) Ah, but it is! What better way for Paul to pull the rug from under the Judaizers than to say Abraham was justified before becoming a Jew? I can't think of a better argument than Paul's. I'm not sure what you mean by the Jews in Paul's day always considered Abraham a Jew in some sense, for either he was circumcised or he wasn't.

Lastly, I don't think 4:4f is about "works in general," especially in light of reading the passage in light of it's immediate context and of Romans and the NT as a whole.

(3) Then this is likely a situation where both of us agree on an important tenet. Trent explicitly defines justification as the forgiveness of sins, but it's more than that.

(4) This is news to me, for I've always understood this to be two aspects (a 'positive' and 'negative') of justification via Sola Fide, not synonyms. I believe they can be explaining the same truth, but I see no logic of doing so under the imputation model (for I see no way of imputing a positive righteousness is a synonym to forgive). If someone's sins are forgiven via a purification, I can 'reckon' them pure, but that's not imputing an alien status of 'pure' to them.